The Latest: Verizon giving credit to hardest-hit counties
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Michael (all times local):
Telecommunications company Verizon says it is going to give three months of service to customers who reside in some of the Florida counties slammed by Hurricane Michael.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Verizon Wireless Executive Vice President Ronan Dunne said the company would give a three-month credit for every Verizon customer in Bay and Gulf counties.
The two coastal counties were among the hardest hit when Michael roared ashore six days ago.
Verizon’s action comes after Florida officials including Gov. Rick Scott had been critical of the slow pace of cellphone restoration by Verizon. Dunne’s statement says the credit would apply to both consumer and business accounts.
Six days after Hurricane Michael ripped through the Florida Panhandle, nearly 137,000 customers remain without power in an 11-county region that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Georgia border.
Michael slammed into the region on Oct. 10 and in the immediate aftermath as many as 400,000 customers in the state were without electricity.
Nearly a week later, most people living in small rural counties near the border still do not have power, according to information compiled by state emergency management officials.
Several power companies have told the state that it will take at least another five days before the lights are back on in some of the communities raked by the deadly storm.
Officials say 16 people died in Florida because of Hurricane Michael, doubling the numbers of deaths in the state The Associated Press had previously attributed to last week’s storm.
Florida officials announced the state’s updated death toll Tuesday. State officials did not provide details of how the victims’ deaths were storm-related and the AP was not immediately able to confirm those details.
Officials say 12 of the deaths occurred in Bay County, a seaside county which took a direct hit from the storm.
The AP’s tally also includes 10 deaths in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.
Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey says two people are confirmed dead in the city that took a direct hit from ferocious Hurricane Michael.
Cathey said Tuesday that the dead were a man and a woman living in separate homes who did not evacuate.
He said the sheriff’s office would release their names and the details of their deaths later.
The mayor says only one person in Mexico Beach is still missing. He says authorities are “almost certain” that person evacuated before Michael and just hasn’t been contacted.
Cathey says officials are “holding steady at two (deaths) and don’t expect that number to rise.”
Life in some of the hardest-hit areas of the Florida Panhandle improved drastically as widespread cellphone service returned for the first time since Hurricane Michael.
Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey had a one-word exclamation when his Verizon phone started working Tuesday for the first time in nearly a week: “Hallelujah!”
Verizon service also resumed in storm-damaged Panama City, where residents haven’t been able to contact loved ones or call for help.
AT&T service was drastically better in the days after Michael, but even it was spotty.
Cathey says communication problems have been his biggest problem in Mexico Beach, where destruction is widespread. He says Verizon is the dominant cellphone company in the area.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Florida Panhandle residents are struggling to locate friends and loved ones who haven’t been heard from, and it’s unclear how many people are missing.
As President Donald Trump visited the devastation Monday, the death toll from Michael’s march from Florida to Virginia stood at 17, and the search for victims continued.
Since the storm, many people have been rescued. Emergency officials said that because of widespread cellphone outages, others could be safe and just haven’t been able to tell friends or family.
Cities that were hit the hardest include Mexico Beach and Panama City, both in Florida. George Ruiz of Geaux Rescue, a nonprofit search-and-rescue operation, says authorities aren’t allowing volunteer groups into either city.